When you think of the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, you probably remember her most notable detective, the Belgium private sleuth Hercule Poirot.
If you’re a bit more of a fan of the undisputed Golden Age crime fiction genius, then you might also love her homely, elderly amateur detective and general busybody, Miss Marple.
While this pair characters are, indisputably, amazing, there’s a lot more to the Queen of Crime than just these two. Christie was a prolific author, who wrote 66 full-length novels, as well as hundreds of short stories that were published in over a dozen collections and many newspapers and periodicals over the years.
Her work defined the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, and became a source of inspiration for writers and artists from around the world. Her work is popular everywhere, and it’s even been turned into animated series in Asia and major blockbusters in Hollywood.
While Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple novels are renowned around the world, and even the sight of a set of dark moustaches invokes an image of her famed detective, the Queen Of Crime also created many other memorable and intriguing characters.
Many of these characters aren’t given the attention and renown that they deserve. During the pandemic, I’ve been turning to Golden Age Crime Fiction and old favourite authors like Christie to bring me comfort, and I’ve found myself revisiting some of her amazing, yet underrated, characters.
That’s why I’ve put together this brief list of some of my favourite and, in my opinion, under appreciated, Christie characters. It’s not a definitive list, and I’m sure other fans of the author might not agree with all of my choices, but hopefully this list will inspire you to check out some Christie characters that you’ve not investigated before.
Parker Pyne: Parker Pyne is a sort of consultant life coach, who aids private individuals in everything from relationship issues through to suspicious deaths and almost everything in between. He advertises in the newspapers with short, cryptic ads that entice many individuals from all walks of life to reach out to him and embroil him in their mysteries and lives. The character appears in a selection of short stories that are really interesting. He also appears in a short story entitled Death On The Nile, which later became the name of one of Christie’s most famous Poirot novels. The story is an early incantation of the novel, but it’s very different in plot, with only a few small similarities. This progression shows how Christie used short stories as a creative springboard.
Ariadne Oliver: Appearing in several Poirot novels and a couple of standalone short stories, Mrs Ariadne Oliver was Christie’s literary self-portrait. The character is an eccentric author who created a Finnish detective, who she’s sick of- similar to Christie herself, who told many of her friends and fans that she was tired of writing about Hercule Poirot. Ariadne Oliver also adores apples, and is generally just a funny and witty character who’s great fun for readers, as well as being a useful foil for the detective. I love her TV portrayal in the ITV Poirot series and the character is definitely undervalued in the books. She’s wacky and funny, while also being intelligent and she has the ability to command the attention she deserves, rather than getting dismissed as so many similar characters are in books. She’s funny but also droll and makes acute observations about the human condition, which is again a refreshing change.
Luke Fitzwilliam: This ex-policeman character returns from India in the novel Murder Is Easy and meets an elderly lady on a train. She states that she’s going to report a serial killer to the police. Before she gets to Scotland Yard, she dies in mysterious circumstances. Unable to let the matter lie, Luke Fitzwilliam decides to investigate. The character isn’t a reoccurring one, but he does stick with me because he’s deeply compassionate and has an intuitive understanding of human nature. He’s also wrong many times, and is open and honest about his lack of knowledge, which is refreshing as many of Christie’s protagonists are very arrogant and proud of their abilities.
Superintendent Battle: While Inspector Japp, the character inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Inspector Lestrade is perhaps the best known of Christie’s policemen characters; Superintendent Battle is arguably the most interesting. Battle appears in five of Christie’s full-length novels, including standalone tales and Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books. He also appears in several short stories. The character is related to several others who turn out to be instrumental in other Christie mysteries. He’s also a lot more in-depth and insightful than some other police characters, who simply act as an official counterpart to private detectives. Battle is intelligent in his own right, and brings a lot of information and useful ideas to the investigation, even if, ultimately, the protagonist detective is the one who eventually gets the glory of actually solving the case in the end.
Miss Lemon: Hercule Poirot’s secretary who also appears in a selection of other short stories, including a couple of Parker Pyne tales is also a funny character in her own right. Christie’s description of the character, who is portrayed as having no imagination and being dedicated exclusively to the creation of the perfect filing system, is droll and witty. It’s also an interesting commentary on the way that many detective novels at the time portrayed working women as sexless, dull people who have no lives outside of their work. Miss Lemon has a sister, and the novel Hickory Dickory Dock contains funny passages about how Poriot doesn’t realise that the character would ever have a family and that she was born as a secretary with a desire to improve filing. The character is a funny commentary on the portrayal of women in literature and a useful soundboard for the eccentric Belgium sleuth.
Mr Satterthwaite: In The Mysterious Mr Quin short story collection, and a few other tales, Mr Satterthwaite and Harley Quin muse over a selection of unusual and seemingly unsolvable crimes. While Harley Quin might be the titular character in the series, he’s merely a plot device used to prompt his friend, Mr Satterthwaite, into uncovering the truth. While his name appears in the title of the book of short stories, Quin not a two-dimensional character, whereas the elderly and old-fashioned Mr Satterthwaite is a fully-fledged character with inventive ideas and witty repartee. He’s an avid and astute observer of the human race who uses his insight to help him to find out the truth in even the most unsettling and confusing cases. The character also appears in the Poirot novel Three Act Tragedy and the short story Dead Man’s Chest, which shows how useful a foil and observer he is.